I talk regularly with clients who struggle with feeling “productive”.  It’s often tied directly to one’s feeling of success or failure and when that struggle is real, there is a lot of shame and guilt involved.  What I have come to realize, however, is that the idea of being productive goes well beyond whether your task list is completed at the end of the day.  I see, and experience myself, the struggle that lies beneath the surface.  Perhaps in ways we aren’t even conscious of:

Productivity = Output.  There’s a truth that our efforts result in some kind of outcome.  Where this is a problem is when we have defined that outcome solely to be an immediate action, output, or tangible completion point.  You build a bird house and at the end – you have a bird house.  Simple.  Well……not always.  Today, many of us are “knowledge workers” and our work is related to information, collaboration, analysis, etc.  The outcome isn’t immediate nor is it sometimes tangible.  Think about work on product development, building client relationships, and research.  Are those activities any less productive?  Not at all.  Yet when we are in the midst of that work, it can be easy to get derailed and shift attention to other activities that can give our mind an immediate lift – – “Let me just clear out my old emails” or “Why don’t I just work on that report first”.  Think about what being “productive” in your role means.  Break down those larger projects into pieces.  Setting small task steps can also help feed the need for completion.

When productivity no longer looks like it once did  I see this challenge especially when there has been a change in roles or positions.  Several stay-at-home Moms that I’ve talked with have really found this tough.  Transitioning from a career outside the home to being home with their children is a huge shift.  Of course the time they are with their children is valuable but it’s a struggle to feel productive in the same ways it once did.  Schedules are different.  Output is different.  Those transitioning to retirement feel this unsettling shift as well.  Plus, it can seem like you shouldn’t “complain” since you now have this new freedom but the sense of being in a free-fall is frightening.  Moving into a new job or area of responsibility can have the same result.  What does productivity look like NOW?  What is the new output where you are today?

Not acknowledging what you DID do.  We each are allotted the same number of hours each day.  You can’t save them so they WILL get spent somehow.  Time seems to expand and contract based on how engaged we are with the activities at hand.  It can be disheartening to feel that you didn’t get much done that you planned to do.  So, when I work with clients, we try to take time to reflect back.  It’s easy to forget to do that in this world of “what’s next?”  Often we find that many good things did happen, albeit they may not have been those that were planned.  While we do work to determine if there are things we could have done or planned differently, I find it helpful to reflect on what drew you aside in the first place.  Jot down those things that came up and that you didn’t account for in your plan.  What do they tell you?  Would you make the same choice to stop and shift attention?  Productivity isn’t just about comparing whether your focus was on your list – – it’s about whether you were purposeful with your time and spent your time where it had the most value.

Cindy B Sullivan is a Time Management & Productivity Consultant and Certified Professional Organizer.  Take Cindy’s free 6 Pillars of Effective Time Management assessment to find out where you can strengthen your productivity skills.  Visit www.cbSullivanConsulting.com or click the “home” tab above.